#295- Gandhi

Quick recap: It’s about the life of Gandhi.

Look. I'm going to do my best to not make a bunch of Clone High references but with a movie like this, sometimes it's what you have to do.

Look. I’m going to do my best to not make a bunch of Clone High references but with a movie like this, sometimes it’s what you have to do.

Fun (?) fact: I suppose I should be embarrassed for not knowing this beforehand, but Pakistan only became a country in the 1900s. I’ve always thought the whole India/Pakistan thing had been around for thousands of years.

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My thoughts: This won’t come as a surprise to many, but the independence of India was not a topic taught in depth in public school. I’m sure we learned about Gandhi at some point, but only as a footnote of important leaders. It’s a shame because I could’ve really used some context while watching this movie. I really enjoyed it, of course. It’s masterfully done. But there’s this nagging suspicion I have that the movie doesn’t tell the whole story and I should be careful in using it to understand such an important figure in the 20th century.

First of all, as stated above, Gandhi the film is perfectly done and if it were a fictional story, would receive my highest rating. Ben Kingsley is amazing and when researching photos of the real Gandhi, I was surprised by how much the two favor each other. The cinematography is also gorgeous. There were so many beautiful shots, from the scenes of the train crossing the country to the camera panning through the crowds watching Gandhi speak, it was all so beautiful. I especially loved that director Richard Attenborough attempted to shoot many scenes in the same places they occurred. India is a beautiful country and Gandhi really captures that.

As for the movie’s main subject, I just don’t know what to think. According to the film, Gandhi was practically a saint and (almost) singlehandedly brought about revolution and independence. It’s a neat story, but the truth is considerably more complicated. I’m inspired to learn more now to get a sense of what really happened and I love when movies do that to me. It’s one of the reasons I’m doing this list, actually. At the same time, I don’t want to get bogged down in too many of Gandhi’s faults. Leaders are flawed because humans are flawed. But even though we know this fundamental fact, people are still desperate for a true hero. Remember Ken Bone, the guy in the sweater who asked Trump a question during the debate? We LOVED that guy for about 15 minutes, until someone found his history. Then we became uncomfortable with the hero we created and we moved on to someone else. There needs to be a balance between hero worship and jaded apathy towards those thrust into the spotlight. Despite the less than glamorous details, Gandhi is seen as a promotor of non violent resistance, which I think has its place in such a turbulent time such as this. Let’s learn the lessons we need to learn, but not stop too long to worship.

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Final review: 5/5

Up next: Reservoir Dogs

#202- The Leopard

Quick recap: The Prince of Salina comes to terms with his diminishing importance during the late 19th century in Italy.

3/4 of the movie involves the Prince brooding in one fashion or another

3/4 of the movie involves the Prince brooding in one fashion or another

Fun (?) fact: Director Luchino Visconti didn’t like Burt Lancaster in the leading role (maybe because he plays Italian but in real life was Irish? sounds like that would be important). Anyway, Lancaster couldn’t put up with the mistreatment anymore and confronted Visconti, who was so impressed by his passion that they became BFFs 4-ever.

This look is more 'contemplation' than 'brooding', but still top notch.

This look is more ‘contemplation’ than ‘brooding’, but still top notch.

My thoughts: IMDb says that The Leopard is Martin Scorsese’s favorite movie. The 1001 Movies book calls The Leopard ‘a cult classic’. Even Giuseppe Tornatore (director of Cinema Paradiso) counts this film as his favorite, although that doesn’t mean too much to me because I didn’t love his film. Anyway, the point is that, on paper, this movie should’ve been amazing, but the reality is that I was underwhelmed. I feel guilty even admitting that, considering how many people hold this film in such high regard. And then I remember how divisive my review of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was and realized that if I can make it through that, I can make it through anything.

I usually try and start with something positive here, and in this case, since this is an historical film, I wanted to at least praise the director for bringing to my attention this very famous person. Who, after a quick search on Wikipedia, does not actually exist and is merely a fictional character. So there goes my history lesson. I’m sure at least the time period was true but not the Prince or his family. I felt really dumb after learning this but really, I know next to nothing about Italian history so if this movie was about a pod of aristocratic whales storming Rome, I’d believe it.

It’s hard for me to put a finger on why I disliked The Leopard so much. The acting was great, not magnificent. And the plot was a little tedious at times but not excruciatingly drawn out. If I had to nail down a reason, I think it’s because I just didn’t care about these people. The Prince seemed like a good enough guy and it was sad to see his reign slip away, but at the same time, this is the aristocracy we are talking about, so there isn’t a lot of love there.The character of Tancredi, the uncomfortably beautiful nephew, confused me throughout the movie as I could never figure out where he fit in all of this. He and the Prince had a special relationship but I think he switched sides at some point and that probably wasn’t a good thing. There were many plot points I missed when I watched this because I had trouble grasping their significance.

But I can sympathize a bit with the concept of a fall from glory, especially if it is inevitable. The end scene where the Prince dances with Angelica, the daughter of his enemy, was beautiful and a perfect contrast between what things used to be and where they are currently.

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Final review: 2/5. Reading up on Wikipedia helped me understand the movie a little better, but there still isn’t much love there.

Up next: Sunrise, which has made me start humming the score from Fiddler on the Roof.

#199- Orphans of the Storm

Quick recap: Two orphans (Louise and Henriette) find themselves caught in the middle of the French Revolution

If it's DW Griffith, expect a Gish or two

If it’s DW Griffith, expect a Gish or two

Fun (?) fact: Griffith made parallels between the French Revolution and Bolshevism, which he feared might happen to America. The Bolsheviks, however, were inspired by the films and used certain techniques for their own propaganda.

French Revolution or Obamacare death panel verdicts being carried out? THANKS, OBAMA

French Revolution or Obamacare death panel verdicts being carried out?
THANKS, OBAMA

My thoughts: Seeing as how I am one movie away from 200, it seems only fitting that I close out this second set of films with my final one from DW Griffith. We’ve had a long, strange ride, me and Griffith. I hated Birth of a Nationmostly loved Intolerance, became inconsolable from Broken Blossoms and completely forgot that I saw Way Down EastAnd now, here we are with what might be the grandest of all films and definitely the one with most plot.

I feel it’s important to note that A Tale of Two Cities is non-ironically my favorite book of all time. I’m not really sure why I latched onto it back in high school- maybe because of the doomed love story ( the best kind of love story) or maybe because it is so beautifully written. Anyway, Griffith got his inspiration directly from the book, which is probably why I enjoyed this film so much. I’ve always wondered why no one has made a major motion picture of A Tale of Two Cities and now I know it’s because Griffith did a damn fine job. I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence. But really, even more than a doomed love story, I love that he used the two sisters to symbolize the different parts of the revolution and how complicated everything actually was.

In the film, Louise goes blind from an illness so her sister takes her to Paris to hopefully be cured. While there, Henriette is kidnapped by the aristocracy and her sister is forced to beg for food to survive. Both stories are equally tragic as Henriette escapes and subsequently falls in love with the nephew of the Countess while still hanging on to hope that her sister is alive. I was glued to the screen watching the revolution grow and finally explode into violence. It still blows my mind that something so epic could’ve been created in the early 1920s, when you consider how much work must have gone into it all. I began to get very impatient at the end, as Henriette is accused of helping the aristocracy and sentenced to the guillotine. I knew that there was no way she would actually die, and the drawing out of the final pardon seemed a little much. Still, it all ended well and I was left with the concept that maybe I love Griffith after all, even though he has subjected me to over 15 hours of silent movie footage.

I googled 'French revolution cat' for fun, and found this. No idea.

I googled ‘French revolution cat’ for fun, and found this.
No idea.

Final review: 5/5. So long, Griffith

Up next: My Own Private Idaho

#198- Little Big Man

Quick recap: A 121 year old man recounts his various adventures growing up in the wild west.

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Fun (?) fact: I’m sure there’s some really interesting stuff out there about this movie, but what stuck out most to me was that Dustin Hoffman is 78 years old. No one else seems to think anything of this, but I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.

I don't see him looking like this at 121, but you never know

I don’t see him looking like this at 121, but you never know

My thoughts: As with anything Native American related, it’s usually very difficult to pull off anything that isn’t completely offensive, so I didn’t have high hopes going into Little big Man. In fact, I had already planned some of the snark I would say on this post related to such insensitivity. Alas, that version won’t happen because I thought everyone did a really good job (impressive, even) with the subject matter, managing to create something hilarious and heartbreaking and giving me the motivation to learn more.

Little Big Man is mostly about Jack Crabb’s (played by Dustin Hoffman) relationship with the Cheyenne nation. As a child, his entire family was wiped out from the Pawnee tribe, except for him and his sister, and a member of the Cheyenne took him in. His sister ran away, but he stayed until he was a young adult and became an honorary brother. Sure, there were some questionable things like the manner of speech the Cheyenne had and their various traditions, but overall, they were seen in a very positive light. Crabb fights with white men at some point and once he is discovered as one of them, he is shipped off to a town to learn some religion. It’s from here that the movie begins to bounce back and forth. He goes through every Western cliche you can think of ( helper at a medicine show, gun fighter, helping a woman at a whorehouse, and so on), but that’s what made the movie funny. This is a tall tale, you see, and I never really got whether or not we are supposed to believe it ( think Big Fish), but it was very entertaining, nonetheless.

One of my reasons for liking this movie so much is the way Crabb always finds his way back to the Cheyenne. He is white, yet it is with these people that he connects with the most. There were several stereotypical characters, but they were portrayed with compassion, especially compared to the white people Crabb encountered elsewhere.  The scenes where Custer and his men tore through the villages killing women and children were very difficult to watch and it was shocking, compared to the lightheartedness of the rest of the movie. This movie was made in 1970, at the height of the Vietnam war so there were many parallels to what was going on in that part of the world at the time.

The movie isn’t perfect and my biggest annoyance was how Forrest Gumpy the plot felt at times. For example, Crabb meets up with Wild Bill during his gun fighter stage, and sees him accidentally kill a man. Seven years later, the two meet up again at a bar and out of nowhere, a kid comes in and shoots Wild Bill dead. It turns out the kid was the son of the man Bill killed earlier and Crabb just happened to be there when it all went down. I have nothing against Gumpy, but it got old after awhile knowing that some ironic thing was about to happen.

Final review: 4/5. For a long film, I didn’t get bored once

Up next: Orphans of the Storm